DRAMA
CBS (Sun., May 1, 9 p.m. ET)
[STARS 2.5]

Her talk show is but a memory. Her magazine went down in flames and litigation. She lost $10 million producing a Boy George musical on Broadway. Rosie O'Donnell could use something nice about now. Maybe an Emmy.

In fact, she deserves award consideration for her portrayal of a developmentally challenged woman in this Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, based on a 2002 memoir by Rachel Simon. Though O'Donnell is performance occasionally gets a shade too cute—like her character's mismatched pink and blue sneakers—the star conveys not only Beth Simon's feisty spirit but an irritating self-centeredness that makes her hard to be around. You sense that O'Donnell is digging for the truth of this role, not just signaling the audience when to laugh or cry.

The rest of the film, unfortunately, is less convincing. Beth, who spends her days riding buses in a middle-size eastern city, is left adrift by her father's death. When Beth's sister, career-obsessed Rachel (Andie MacDowell), reluctantly comes to look after her, their conflicts play out in a predictable, almost perfunctory, manner. A writer-professor in real life, Rachel is depicted here as a fashion photographer, and she takes many prosaic pictures of Beth and gentle boyfriend Jesse (Judging Amy's. Richard T. Jones). Director Anjelica Huston also uses photos to cue flashbacks, as old snapshots trigger memories of Rachel and Beth's turbulent childhood. We wonder that a broken home produced so many Kodak moments.

Rachel and her man (Peter Cockett) are on the outs, and a handsome, bighearted bus driver (D.W. Moffett) provides a possible alternative, but her love life seems like an afterthought. See Riding for Rosie or let it pass by.

ANIMATION

FOX (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)
American Dad

FOX (Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET)
Guy [STARS 3]
Dad [STARS 1.5]

Feel free to call Seth MacFarlane the Comeback Kid. FOX axed creator MacFarlane's animated comedy Family Guy in 2002, but the show proved so popular on DVD and in Cartoon Network reruns that the network is bringing it back in fresh episodes starting May 1. Family Guy will be followed by the official premiere of another MacFarlane series, American Dad, which had an estimated audience of 15 million for a post-Super Bowl preview.

The first episode of Family Guy's return should please old fans and make new ones. Peter (voiced by MacFarlane), the Ralph Kramden-like head of the Griffin household, steals a print of the un-released sequel to The Passion of the Christ and battles Mel Gibson in a parody of the classic thriller North by Northwest. The fast-paced craziness has a hit-or-miss quality, but I'm still laughing at the thought of an action flick pairing Jim Caviezel's Jesus with motor-mouth Chris Tucker.

Too bad about American Dad, which seems as forced as it did in February. MacFarlane voices the character of an overzealous CIA man, and the show resembles Family Guy visually. But the creative energy is comparatively low.

DOCUMENTARY
PBS (Mon., May 2, 9 p.m. ET)
[STARS 3.5]

There's nothing celebratory about this valuable American Experience documentary on the last year of World War II in the Pacific theater. The main theme is not the glory of victory but its terrible price.

American and Japanese witnesses recall the firebombing of Tokyo, the kamikaze strikes against U.S. ships and the savage 82-day struggle for control of Okinawa. The film lacks depth in its treatment of the A-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but Victory is a memorable study of war's brutality, folly and grim exigencies.

DOCUMENTARY
MTV (Wed., May 4, 8 p.m. ET)
[STARS 3]

A haunting documentary about the Holocaust—on MTV? It makes sense because this victim's-eye view of Nazi genocide is for and about the young.

Director Lauren Lazin (Tupac: Resurrection) evokes the nightmarish time with stark visuals while a cast of new-generation stars—including Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy and Joaquin Phoenix—reads diary entries by young people caught up in the terror. Most of them did not survive, and the film gives us a sense of what the world lost when these lives were cut short. What we don't need are the didactic opening and closing remarks of Scrubs star Zach Braff.

DRAMA
USA (Mon., May 2, 9 p.m. ET)
[STARS 2]

Meet ChiefWarrant Officer James Chandler (Lou Diamond Phillips) of the Criminal Investigation Division, United States Army. Chandler is a determined hero with an interesting mixture of strength and vulnerability (although I wish he'd go easy on the chewing gum). I wouldn't mind seeing him front and center in an Army spinoff of NCIS. But the script and direction of this TV movie don't pass muster.

Haunted by a past case that left him feeling responsible for a woman's death, Chandler keeps plugging till he discovers who murdered the wife of a military-police sergeant (Martin Cummins). Along the way he gets a little help from the victim's brother (Jason Priestley, just going through the motions) and a corporal (Victoria Pratt) who offers sex as well as sleuthing support. There's a definite shortage of suspense, and the gunplay near the end looks like an unintentionally comic homage to John Woo's over-the-top action films.

Making It Big
(Oxygen, May 1, 8 p.m. ET) The job-quest reality series gives three aspiring entertainment reporters a shot at interviewing Hal Sparks of Queer as Folk.

Judging Amy
(CBS, May 3, 10 p.m. ET) Is she laying down the gavel for good? The season finale finds Amy quitting her juvenile court post and contemplating a run for the Senate.

Dr. Phil Special: Escaping Danger (CBS, May 4, 8 p.m. ET) A young mother appeals for Doc McGraw's help when she wants to get away from her abusive husband.

Kevin Hill (UPN, May 4, 9 p.m. ET) Kevin (Taye Diggs) agrees to aid a salon owner (guest star Toni Braxton) who faces the prospect of closing her shop to make room for a development project.

Third Watch (NBC, May 6, 9 p.m. ET) Call it Last Watch. In the slam-bang series finale, hoodlums attack the precinct station and a murderous gang leader (guest star Wyclef Jean) escapes.

Law & Order's Annie Parisse

Before her new gig as Law & Order's assistant district attorney Alexandra Borgia, Parisse, 29, was best known as crazed diva Julia Lindsey on As the World Turns and Joey's french-fry-stealing date on an '04 episode of Friends.

ON PLAYING A LAWYER "This is my father's favorite show, so I've been watching it since high school, but I don't know a lot about the law. Now I'm studying. Legaldictionary.com is my Web site of choice."

ON BEING THE NEW GIRL ON SET "Actually, we have so many guest stars, I have not done a single episode where I haven't known a guest. It's a blast. In one episode, one of my old acting teachers played the defendant."

ON HER FRIENDS STINT "I got to be known as the French Fry Girl. It was just a moment but it was fun. I mean, we have all either known those food-stealing girls or we've been them."

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Pamela Warrick.